Rocks of Ages: Los Molinos de Jávea


One of the windmills, high above the town and sea.

There are, indeed, few merrier spectacles than that of many windmills bickering together in a fresh breeze over a woody country; their halting alacrity of movement, their pleasant business, making bread all day with uncouth gesticulation; their air, gigantically human, as of a creature half alive, put a spirit of romance into the tamest landscape. — Robert Louis Stevenson

On the hills above Jávea lies a dramatic ridge called La Plana, which stretches from the 753 meter-high Montgó Massif  to the lighthouse at Cabo de San Antonio. Ranging from 170 to 220 meters high, La Plana separates the town of Jávea from the neighboring city of Denia. In the middle stands a line of old stone windmills or molinos. There are eleven total, each seven meters tall and six meters in diameter. While most are from the 18th century, at least one has its origins as far back as the 14th century, a span of time when wheat and other grains were a necessary staple as well as an important commodity. Indeed, in 1258, King Alfonso X decreed that all Alicante landowners were permitted to build windmills on their property to feed their families with the grain and to sell it at market.

Los Molinos up on the Plana, as seen from the town below

The location of the windmills was chosen to take full advantage of the Llebig, the strong wind that blows across the plane. No longer functional–the last of them stopped turning in the 1800s–the windmills now serve as historical markers and as such are in remarkably good shape. Today, los molinos, or el molins as they are known in Valenciano, are one of the 15 official miradors of Jávea.

Molinos, in their line along the Plana.

There is life in a stone. Any stone that sits in a field or lies on a beach takes on the memory of that place. You can feel that stones have witnessed so many things. — Andy Goldsworthy

Although we had gazed up many a time from the town below at the windmills as they stood, in their solid, reassuring line high above us on their ridge, they were the one remaining mirador we hadn’t yet visited. So, with a beautiful Sunday morning in early November blissfully free of plans or obligations, we decided to hike up to see them at close range. It is from this proximity their study dependability becomes almost palpable.

El Molins/Los Molinos mirador signage

The observer, when he seems to himself to be observing a stone, is really, if physics is to be believed, observing the effects of the stone upon himself. — Bertrand Russell

I have always felt a kinship with rocks; their ancientness seems both mysterious and reassuring. I like to think about the many centuries they’ve witnessed; our one constant connection to a very young earth. Almost everywhere I go, whether in my neighborhood or further afield, I pick up a rock if it speaks to me. Over the years, I have amassed quite a collection. When we moved from Virginia to Spain and had to significantly pare down our possessions, my rocks were one of my few non-negotiables in our shipping container. I always carry a few around in my purse. They are a couple on my bedside table. They fill small dishes around our home. I’ve found them on beaches in California, Greece, and Spain and mountains in Austria, Italy, and France. I have a bit of lava from Iceland and a piece of flint from the cemetery of an ancient Saxon church in a tiny English village. I have rocks from the Appalachians–my favorite mountains in the world–and from hikes in Big Sky, Montana. I like to find ones for kindred rock lovers: my mom, from whom I inherited my obsession, and who writes on each with a fine point Sharpie from whence it came; our friend, Sal, who compulsively builds cairns where ever he goes; and Ashley, my teaching mentor and English professor who told me how only literature was strong enough to lure her from becoming a geologist.

Closer view, with person for scale

Geologists have a saying–rocks remember. — Neil Armstrong

One could make the case that stones are integral to Jávea’s history and culture. Montgó, the iconic mountain that rises high above Jávea, was formed 70 million years ago when the African continental plate slammed into Europe, scraping up the sedimentary floor of an ancient precursor to the Mediterranean Sea. At least 30,000 years ago, the earliest known humans in Spain–later named Iberians by the Phonecians–occupied the caves of Montgó, as evidenced by remnants of their drawings and tools dating back to the Stone and Bronze Ages. Stone has also been used for centuries in the region for terraced farming, which greatly expanded the amount of land that could be used for agriculture in this hilly and mountainous region.

Inside, looking out

Jávea is also famous for its tosca, a honey-colored stone formed over one hundred thousand years ago from ancient sand dunes. Unique to Jávea and Ibiza, the stone has been prized for centuries for its golden color, which almost glows in the afternoon sunlight. First mined by the Romans in the second century BCE it was used for centuries in buildings and structures in Jávea and elsewhere until the rock gained protected status in 1972. Almost the entire medieval center of Jávea, the origins of which date from the 11th century, is built from tosca. In the 16th century, walls of tosca were erected around the old town as fortification against marauding pirates where they stood strong until their removal in 1877.

The windmills, although old, are stone infants by comparison.

Inside 400 years of history, looking up. (Photo Credit: Kitt Mattingly)

The finest workers in stone are not copper or steel tools, but the gentle touches of air and water working at their leisure with a liberal allowance of time. — Henry David Thoreau

There are several ways to the top of the Plana, but we decided to take the steep road winding up from the Port through a hilly residential area to the top. It was one of those classic autumn days, the sky alternating between almost blinding sunshine and dark clouds. The wind was strong, and we were glad we brought windbreakers. We hiked up, up, up; pausing every so often to take in the views of the city below as it grew smaller and smaller.

Looking into the past.

As builders say, the larger stones do not lie well without the lesser. — Plato

One of the windmills has been left open for visitors. From inside it resembles a stone silo. As with the others, the ancient peaked wooden roof had long since fallen victim the elements. On this day, the sunlight streamed in, highlighting the intricacies of the masonry. Although I know better than to mythologize the past, as I stood inside I felt a twinge of nostalgia for a time I never knew: a time before fossil fuels and Big Ag, when “slow food” and eating local were the only options; a time when people were more attuned to the land, the seasons, and the earth.

A window into history

Even a stone…could show you the way back to God, to the Source, to yourself. When you look at it or hold it and let it be without imposing a word of mental label on it, a sense of awe, of wonder, arises within you. Its essence silently communicates itself to you and reflects your own essence back to you. — Echkart Tolle

On the way back down we turned to take one last look at the molinos up on the Plana. The windmills stood in their row above us, keeping their unblinking watch over the town below and the sea beyond, silent and stalwart witnesses to centuries of history. And it hit me: the molinos are indeed old. The prehistoric cave drawings are older still. But atop the Plana, amidst these historical remnants, it was hard not to ponder the relative impermanence of all human creations. Long after all traces of our species and civilizations–including the windmills–have vanished, Montgó will keep its stately post, looking out over the land and sea, and whatever else might follow.


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